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Craniosacral therapy for horses is no different from that with humans from a physical or emotional perspective. It is a uniquely efficient way to keep horses in biomechanical Equine Treatmentbalance and maintain skeletal and muscular health.

Craniosacral therapy is also used successfully in treating specific equine conditions such as any kind of trauma, headshaking, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) imbalances, head traumas, facial nerve paralysis, or immune system related disorders.

Craniosacral therapy is highly effective in treating both acute and chronic injuries. What makes this therapy unique is its specific focus on the equine skull and its relationship to the rest of the body.

Core Link
Originally known as craniosteopathy and craniopathy, Craniosacral evolved from the practice of osteopathy. In the early 1900s, Dr. William Sutherland, an osteopath, discovered that the bones of the cranium connect to the sacrum through what he referred to as the “core link”. The core link is made up of the skull or cranium, the spinal cord, the dura mata (the protective sleeve around the spinal cord) and the sacrum. Sutherland noticed that when “pressures” were applied to the various bones of the skull, the sacrum and pelvis were affected. The same principle applies when it comes to the sacrum and pelvis; eventually, pressures applied there would affect the bones of the skull.

These structures are connected, not only by muscles, fascia, ligaments and tendons on the outside, but, MORE importantly, by the issues from inside the core link. While traditional osteopathy focuses on the bones themselves, Craniosacral focuses on bringing balance throughout the skeletal and muscular systems with specific focus on the intricate connection of the individual bones of the skull, the spine and the sacrum.

Application of Craniosacral Therapy
Equine Craniosacral practitioners apply specific hands-on techniques to the horse’s body to release restrictions in the musculoskeletal system and in the fascia, a tissue that weaves the whole body together like a spider web. Craniosacral is an energy-based therapy using light contact like acupressure. There is no physical manipulation to the bones and tissues. While specific attention is given to the cranium, spine and sacrum, treatment is not limited to these areas due to the way the body is connected.

Practitioners are trained to first assess the equine client’s movement, posture and soft tissue. Hands-on techniques applied help to release restrictions throughout the body’s musculoskeletal and nervous system, restoring postural balance and fluidity of the bio- mechanics.

The Equine Skull
The equine skull is a giant jigsaw puzzle made of 26 individual plates of bone joined together by sutures. Sutures act like joints between the cranial bones and are designed to help disperse the energy from an impact to the skull. All bone is healthy living tissue and has both a blood supply and fatty tissue, giving it a degree of natural pliability. Any external pressures, like pull backs or compression from trauma, on the young horse’s skull, which is not fully developed, will have long term ramifications and deep effects. When the compression is left untreated, it can result in behavior issues, spookiness, TMJ issues, collection issues, or other difficulties in work, to name a few.

Throughout the life of most horses, many pressures are regularly applied to the cranium, from tight fitting nosebands, pressures from bits, improperly fitting bridles or halters, and dental procedures.
Whether pressures are applied from devices or injury/ trauma occurs to the bones of the skull, their natural positions become disorganized and out of balanced alignment. The bones of the skull can get compressed and the sutures jammed, affecting the horse’s neurology, muscle and nerve function, sinuses, balance, TMJ function, gait movement, head carriage, poll flexion and overall biomechanics.

How do you know when your horse needs or may benefit from Craniosacral therapy?

Craniosacral is used with success in the treatment of: sunshinehorse
• Headshaking
• Facial nerve paralysis
• Imbalances of the TMJ and the muscles of mastication
• Head traumas and injuries
• Behaviour problems
• Low back and stifle/ hock joint problems
• Cribbing
• Biomechanical issues
• Girthing problems
• Low grade/Chronic infections
• Biomechanical issues

Indications that your horse may be a good candidate for Craniosacral treatment include:

• Bucking
• Lameness
• Difficulty in making transitions, holding the canter and leads
• Feels flat in work
• Difficulty with respiration
• Headaches
• Grinding teeth or difficulty chewing food
• Ears back/moody mare

The body loves balance. It will try to create balance in an imbalanced state via compensation patterns. These compensations cost the body over time and aid in the breakdown of joint function and musculoskeletal health. Many times people use devices to correct these imbalances, which is like putting a band aid on to correct the body and movement, which only creates more imbalance. Often, in the long term, behaviour issues result. Compensation patterns exist for all equine athletes!

Any horse can benefit from Craniosacral work because all horses experience regular pressures to the cranium throughout their lives. Horses love to be treated.

Clearly, these pressures on the skull affect bone growth and position, and contribute to compensation patterns in muscles of the TMJ, its function, and mastication patterns, which influence the overall biomechanics of the horse. Retaining or reinstating the integrity of skeletal and muscular systems is vital for any horse, especially the equine athlete, for health, longevity, comfort, wellbeing and performance!

About Deirdre
Deirdre is trained with Equine Craniosacral Therapy, by a Canadian doctor of chiropractors. Deirdre has been a horse lover all her life and has ridden, worked with, competed and taken care of horses for 40 years. She is also an equine facilitated learning and therapy from the USA and is one of the first graduates of the first year long EFL coaching programmes. She is a member of founding EFETA, the umbrella organisation for all equine facilitated work including therapeutic riding equine facilitated psychotherapy and equine facilitated learning. Her main area of interest is horse welfare and wants to teach those in the horse world to better understand the communication from horses to better the relationship between human and horse. She is a fore runner in the new area of Equine Facilitated Craniosacral Therapy following her work with a herd of horses since 2006 in USA. Deirdre has two rescue horses with her team of four at home where she specialises in equine facilitated work with children with special needs, family constellations and the corporate world in leadership and team building.


Compulsive yawning can indicate a horse has developed encephalopathy, especially that seen with liver disease. horseyawningOne horse walks circles compulsively and appears as if he hasn’t had his morning coffee. Another stands a bit lopsided and doesn’t blink when you raise your hand toward her eye. The bad news is both horses show signs of potential neurologic disease, and their veterinarians are tasked with digging deep, remembering which sections of the nervous system control which body parts, and whether the function is same-side or mirrored. The good news is horses give very subtle clues that can help the clinician pinpoint the cause so treatment can start. Robert MacKay, BVSC, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, professor of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Science, described the possible meaning of some confusing neurologic findings the 2015 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention, held Dec. 5-9, in Las Vegas.

MacKay began by describing the life-sustaining operation of consciousness, which is based in the reticular formation of the brain and runs the cardiovascular system, breathing, and swallowing. A part of this formation, called the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS), is responsible for wakefulness and transitions in and out of wakefulness. Injury location determines the effect on a horse’s wakefulness. For instance, midbrain injury (to the uppermost part of the brainstem, which is involved in basic, unconscious body function) results in profound obtundation, or dulled alertness; cerebral injury (the portion of the brain concerned with conscious thought, perceptions, and learned skills) might have no effect at all to a serious effect on consciousness; and widespread injury to the forebrain, which, as it sounds, is the forward-most part of the vertebrate brain, including the cerebrum, hypothalamus, and thalamus, is necessary to moderately affect consciousness.

Behavioral Changes
Changes in a horse’s behavior can also be explained by brain injury location. For instance, says MacKay, a horse with dementia is likely to have a forebrain lesion. Examples of neurologic deficits possibly attributable to brain injury include:
• Loss of learned behaviors (e.g., no longer knowing how to be led);
• Altered inherent behavior (e.g., a foal no longer bonding to his dam);
• Bizarre postures;
• Repetitive compulsive motor activity, such as circling;
• Teeth grinding, a nonspecific sign consistent with encephalitis;
• Head-pressing, often manifested as pushing forward into a stall corner with the head below the withers, one cause being hyperammonemia from coronavirus enteritis, which can cause encephalopathy;
• Compulsive yawning, which can occur with encephalopathy, especially that seen with liver disease;
• Self-mutilation, as seen in many rabies cases; and
• Seizures, which might be classified as a form of dementia and can occur with Eastern equine encephalitis, for example,

Compulsive Circling

A horse that circles incessantly could have either asymmetric vestibular (pertaining to the balance mechanism in the inner ear and brain) injury or a forebrain lesion. The vestibular signs include:
• Head tilt and small and incomplete circles;
• Signs of accompanying cranial nerve dysfunction, such as facial paralysis or atrophy (wasting) of the jaw muscles; and
• Staggering and falling toward the inside of the circle, but the ability to make an accurate recovery.
A forebrain lesion, such as might be seen with moldy corn poisoning, causes the horse to:
• Hold his head vertically;
• Complete large coordinated circles (without staggering), though it results from compulsive behavior (dementia); and
• Suffer from central blindness or diminished touch perception usually, but not always, of the eye or face on the outside of the circle.

Altered Menace Response and Pupillary Light Reflexes (PLRs)
When the horse fails to blink when a hand waves in his face, that’s a deficit in the menace response. “Other reactions to the menace gesture, like head aversion and eyeball retraction into the socket, are not part of the menace response,” MacKay said. “For clinical purposes to localize which part of the brain might be affected, this response appears to be generated by the brain cortex on the side opposite to the tested eye. In contrast, pupillary light reflexes (PLRs) use specific nerve pathways that go both directly and cross over the midbrain to cause constriction of the pupils.”

Damaged Facial Nerves
“Injury external to the skull only affects one of the three branches (somatic branch) of the facial nerve,” said MacKay. There may be loss of blink reflexes, but the eye is still able to retract, and the third eyelid still functions to spread the tear film across the cornea, although not as well as usual, so mild corneal ulcers might develop from slight dryness. In contrast, injury to the greater petrosal branch of the facial nerve within the skull leads to dry eye and rapid corneal damage due to a loss of multiple functions within the eye that deliver the tear film.

This repetitive uncontrollable eye movement can be caused by neurologic lesions in various locations: a) a lesion in the vestibular system (which controls balance) referred to as peripheral nerve dysfunction; b) a lesion in the central nervous system medulla (the spinal cord, as with equine protozoal myeloencephalitis); or a central lesion within the cerebellum (which controls motor control and cognitive function), in which case the head tilts the direction opposite the lesion. Typically, peripheral and medullary lesions cause horizontal (side-to-side) nystagmus, while central lesions usually change orientation to patterns other than horizontal.

Take-Home Message
Specific neurologic signs can help the skilled, carefully observant veterinarian pin down or rule out lesion location to better define the cause and, when possible, implement appropriate treatment.